Nisha Qureshi

India doesn’t have a culture of adopting a sport at brand-level, says Vinit Karnik of GroupM

The head - sports, esports and entertainment, GroupM South Asia, talks about emerging media, as well as advertising and sponsorship trends across sports in India.

It has been a great year for Indian sports, according to the 10th edition of GroupM ESP Sporting Nation Report 2023. It states that while cricket contributed a lion’s share of sports revenue (85%), other emerging sports are also growing at an impressive rate due to the onset of leagues like ISL, PKL, etc.

Talking about the report’s findings, Vinit Karnik, head - sports, esports and entertainment, GroupM South Asia, says he was surprised to find out that the Indian sports industry surpassed the Rs 14,000 crore mark. This is a whopping 49% growth over 2021. He expected the number to be around Rs 12,000 crore.

India doesn’t have a culture of adopting a sport at brand-level, says Vinit Karnik of GroupM

Karnik also expects big things to happen in the industry. According to him, other sports like hockey, football, marathons and even golf are picking up big time in the country, because brands have started seeing value in them.

As per the report, cricket’s revenue share actually decreased by 3% in 2022 versus 2021, and the revenue from emerging sports grew from 12% to 15%. This means that more money is actually going towards other sports.

Karnik adds that football and kabaddi have a great opportunity to bridge the gap between the IPL and other sports leagues.

“We’re talking to many brands/marketers about ‘catching them young and watching them grow’. For example, UltraTech Cement has always been affiliated with cricket. However, we got the company to associate with kabaddi 6-7 years ago. We said to the company, you invest so much money into cricket. Why don’t you invest in kabaddi too and see where it takes you?”

“You can build your narrative/purpose through a sport. We’ve spoken to many brands about this and have had a few wins, but would like to have more. Aligning your brand purpose to a sport and making it a part of your larger strategy, is something we would love to see brands do.”

However, Karnik also feels that for India to actually become a sporting nation, the attitude of brands as well as the society, needs to change.

“We don’t have a culture of adopting a particular sport in school. We also don’t have a culture of adopting a sport at a brand-level. Very few brands like Hero, PepsiCo, Coke, Vodafone, etc., have made sports a part of their DNA. We would like to see more and more brands adopt sports as a part of their marketing DNA.”

IPL and cricket

According to the report, media spends on cricket grew from Rs 5,657 crore to Rs 7,072 crore in 2022 - a 25% growth versus 2021. It says that the spending on cricket sponsorship grew by a whopping 99% and outpaced 2021’s total sponsorship revenue.

From a media spends perspective, cricket alone has contributed to 94% of all ad expenses incurred last year. The remaining 6% of the total expenses came from emerging Sports- an amount of INR 481 Cr ($Mn 61) at an increment of 33% over 2021.

India doesn’t have a culture of adopting a sport at brand-level, says Vinit Karnik of GroupM

Asked if cricket, especially the IPL, is getting way too cluttered with every brand looking to be associated with it, Karnik shares, “Cricket does give you viewership. Other sports like hockey and football, are quite fast-paced. The camera is always moving here and there. But with every ball in cricket, the camera stops, hence, the brand visibility is pretty high.”

He adds that because leagues like the IPL are seasonal, brands plan their entire marketing calendars around them.

Women’s sports

Karnik says that with the onset of the WPL this year, the attitude towards women in cricket in particular, and sports in general, will change. Asked if the notion that more women tend to watch women in sports is true, he responds that the trend wasn’t visible during the WPL this year.

“People watch content out of habit, and forming a habit takes time. I won’t pass any judgment on the WPL for at least three years. After that, we will have enough data and patterns to talk about. However, what we did see is that a lot more women were coming in to see women playing.”


On how celebrity endorsements are shaping up in the industry, Karnik mentions that while male cricketers like MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, continue to lead the space, women from emerging sports, were actually leading endorsements, pre-2021.

Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Sania Mirza, Mary Kom, etc., had a good number of endorsements.

With the WPL gaining momentum and women’s cricket team winning tournaments, Karnik expects women cricketers to bag more endorsements.

India doesn’t have a culture of adopting a sport at brand-level, says Vinit Karnik of GroupM

(With additional inputs from Benita Chacko)

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